UCLA’s loss to Oregon is huge; huge because it puts Oregon in the drivers’ seat for the regular season conference title, and disappointing because the truth is it was a very winnable game for us. Oregon has beaten both us and Arizona and doesn’t play either of us again in the regular season, we and Arizona square off twice. In any event, we’re now in a battle for second place unless Oregon stumbles badly, which is entirely possible, but nowhere ideal for us.
As for the five biggest mistakes we made versus Oregon, my analysis may surprise some folks, but there’s no escaping the facts. We won the first half, so my focus is on the second half… which we blew. In no particular order:
- Settling for jump shots. Folks we were 10 for 30 (33.3%) from the field in the second half. By contrast Oregon was 12-21 (57.1%). If we shot 57.1% in the second half we’d have won running away. Of Oregon’s 21 shot attempts, 12 were layups or dunks. Of our 30 shots, 25 were jumpers! That’s just incredible. We’re a jump shooting/transition offense team. Against inferior foes, that will win most games. Against “like foes” such as Oregon, when our jumpers aren’t falling we need to attack the basket. This leads us to biggest mistake #2, which is a corollary of #1.
- Not attacking the basket. All things being equal, we lost the game at the free throw line. Consider, from the field in the second half Oregon beat us 25-23. Theoretically, if we matched them basket for basket from the free throw line, we win by one as we finished the first half with a three point lead. However, from the free throw line Oregon was 14 for 19, while we were 4 for 5 in the second half. That’s right. On our home court Oregon shot 14 free throws in the second half than we did. Admittedly most of those free throws were taken when we started having to hack to try to extend the game. However, in the first 16 minutes of the second half we went to the free throw line 1 time as a result of being fouled in the act of shooting. During that same period of time, Oregon was fouled 5 times while in the act of shooting; 2 times for “and ones” and 3 times for a two shot fouls. As a result, at the four minute mark Oregon was 6-8 from the line while we were 2-3. They were the aggressors.
- Giving the freshmen too much free reign to shoot in the second half. Check this out: the freshmen were a combined 1-12 (8.33) in the second half from the field. (SM 0-5, JA 0-3 & KA 1-4) By comparison the non-freshmen were 10-18 (61.1%). (NP 1-1, TW 4-8, DW 2-3, LDII 3-6) Not looking to slam anyone here, but if you’re looking for who shot us out of the game, ummm, that would be the freshmen. For all the happy horse manure spouted by our beloved Bill Walton who should know better, (Turn these kids loose! Offense wins championships!), and many extremist fans, who clearly don’t know better, the truth is Coach Howland should have at least told the freshmen NO MORE JUMP SHOTS. You want to shoot, do so attacking the rim. Again, we were down just one point with three minutes to go. This game was way winnable if we had simply attacked the rim.
- Breaking down defensively, and playing lackadaisically in the last 3 1/2 minutes. After the first 10 minutes of the second half we scored 10 points and gave up 15 points. The score was 52-50. Setting aside the fact that the offense was horrible, giving up 15 points in that time frame was respectable. 6 ½ minutes later the score was 62-61. Holding Oregon which averages 76.5 ppg or 38 points per half to 25 points in 16 ½ minutes is not terrible. Despite an awful shooting second half by the freshmen, we were in a position to survive it. Then the wheels came off. The next 2 minutes and 14 seconds destroyed us, and it was characterized by defensive break downs and lackadaisical offensive play. It went something like this: bad low post defense/boxing out by Kyle Anderson. Lay-in by Oregon’s Kazemi. Muhammad miss on a decent look, but did not attack the basket or try to draw a foul. Oregon scores again when Muhammad allowed himself to be pick off on a give-and-go exposing Travis Wear to a desperate foul underneath. Oregon hits their free throws. On offense, Anderson throws a lazy pass to Muhammad that gets stolen, and results in a dunk for Oregon. Just like that we’re down 7 and never recover. The common denominator: Freshmen in pour defensive position or not attacking or taking care of the ball.
- Not enough Powell, and maybe not enough Parker. Norman Powell played as well if not better than anyone on UCLA on defense, and was as efficient offensively as anyone else who touched the floor on either team. He went 4-5 in the first half. Yet, inexplicably he played only 22 minutes and shot only one shot the entire second half to finish 5-6. What happened? Truth is, if Muhammad doesn’t have to sit for the start of the game, Powell might have gotten even less minutes. As for Parker, he seems to be relegated to three minutes per game irrespective of circumstances. From what I’ve seen he’s a mixed bag on offense and a bit of a liability on defense if rotations get deep, but surely he can give us more than three minutes. Here’s my thing: I think the sometimes ill-advised missed jump shots on the part of the freshmen were due to tired legs. Playing Powell (who earned it) more and utilizing Parker a few minutes in the second half may have been helpful in terms of player freshness and decision making.
Bottom line for me is we lost to a team that we are more talented than on our home floor on national TV with an edge in Pac-12 leadership at stake; pretty depressing. Coach Howland was not out-coached as some have suggested. Coach Altman resorting to gimmicky defenses isn’t better coaching, it’s acknowledgement that we are more talented.
Frankly Altman’s mixing of defenses wasn’t all that impactful. We had less turnovers than Oregon in the second half. We also took more shots. Oregon working deep into the shot clock on offense was more impactful. What killed us was missing those extra shots, and not attacking the basket to get to the line. The former is on the players, namely the freshmen, and the latter is on Coach Howland. It’s just my opinion, but I think Coach Howland also mismanaged playing time. Anderson and Muhammad also don’t seem capable of playing tough, smart defense 100% of the time. You almost get the sense they think can always pick it up on the offensive end, but obviously that’s not the case. I will also add that for every spectacular pass Anderson makes, he makes some pretty bad or ill-advised ones as well.
All is not lost. The season’s not over. But it sez here this one really hurt.